Five reasons why you need to backup your files

Part of being organized is being prepared for when things go wrong — and with your computer, tablet, and smartphone things can go horribly wrong. That’s when you’ll be glad you’re doing backups.

On Unclutterer, we’ve written about how to backup your computer and the photos on your phone, but the following five scenarios illustrate just why these backups are so important.

Hard drives go bad

The hard drive that stores all the data on your computer won’t last forever. As John Gruber wrote:

Hard drives are fragile. … Every hard drive in the world will eventually fail. Assume that yours are all on the cusp of failure at all times. It’s good to be spooked about how long your hard drives will last.

And you may have no indication that your hard drive is failing until it’s too late, as Lorie Marrero found out:

I have always thought that you would have a little warning when a hard drive was going out — things would be slower, sluggish, acting strange. But this was here one second, gone the next!

Sometimes data can be recovered from a hard drive that has crashed, but that can be time consuming, expensive, or both. And file recovery is never a sure thing.

When your hard drive fails, you don’t want to be sharing a story like this one from journalist Andy Patrizio, on ITworld:

After two days of agony, I lost some downloaded files, nothing I can’t live without, and my entire Outlook contact list. Years of building up contacts, all gone.

Computers, tablets, and phones get lost or stolen

A Rutgers PhD student had his computer stolen, and it had five years worth of research data. A family dining in San Francisco had a laptop stolen from their car — the laptop had irreplaceable family photos. People leave their computers and phones behind on airplanes and may not ever get them returned. You can read sad stories like this all the time. Without backups, the files on those devices are gone forever.

Devices get lost in disasters

Joshua Peltz lost his cell phone, with all his movies of his 2-year-old daughter, when US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River in 2009.

Most of you will never be in such a horrific situation, and I hope you never experience a loss due to fire, tornado, or any other such disaster. But if such a tragedy were to occur, you wouldn’t want the situation to be made even worse because you lost all your digital photos and other precious files.

People delete files by mistake

I’ve seen people lose files with no idea what happened to cause the problem. Other times you do know — sometimes just seconds after pressing the wrong keys. I happen to use CrashPlan for my backup, and on Twitter I often see the company sharing tweets like this one from July: “So relieved I use CrashPlan. Folder of all wife’s photos accidentally deleted in April and only just noticed. Now restoring from backup!!”

Computers get infected with malware

Lincoln Spector of PC World wrote about this scenario:

A malicious program infects your PC and makes your documents and other important files inaccessible, then it pops up a message demanding money to get the files back. You’ve got a ransomware infection, and that isn’t good.

How do you get the files back without paying for them? That’s simple: Restore them from a backup. That is, of course, if you’ve been backing up daily.

Otherwise, this is going to take some work.

Recovering from a malware infection is more complex than I can get into, but having backups of your files would certainly reduce the panic level if you ever incur such a problem.

9 Comments for “Five reasons why you need to backup your files”

  1. posted by liz on

    Add to the list – update the files when you update the software.

    My laptop suffered a modem or board malfunction so I could not access the internet. It was still under warranty, but I had to send it in not knowing if they could fix it or declare it bad and send me a credit. So, I copied all the files and bought a new laptop. If the old one is repaired, fine and it becomes the spare.

    My problem was when I was going through files I migrated from the “bad” laptop, there were many from previous years and older laptops. I tried to open the files and got garbage. I now have a folder called “can’t open” and maybe some day, I’ll dig out the oldest laptop to check out these files.

    But, I am going through all of those files, checking, deleting, migrating to newer version, renaming and putting them into clearly defined folders. When I am done, I’ll create a clean backup, store it off site and strive to continue keeping everything current.

    When I decluttered the top shelf in my office, I found a bunch of 5.25″, 3.5″ and Zip Drive disks. At least I didn’t find any punch cards from college! And I have a bunch of 8mm film and slides and negatives from my parents home to figure out what to do with…

  2. posted by Angela on

    Add to the list- the Cloud is NOT reliable. I have been waiting for 3 DAYS for Apple to recover all of my files that their iCloud “ate”.

  3. posted by Ben on

    About malware infections, it’s important to always have some of your backups disconnected from your main computers, otherwise the malware may infect your backups too.

  4. posted by laura m. on

    I use a usb/flashdrive to store any files , bookmarks for reading, music, email addresses (I don’t do any banking or bill paying online). This is updated every two months.

  5. posted by dzarah logan on

    I have been student through 80s till now, studied all sorts of computer technology and curriculum specialized in media and communication all variations but never keep important files on any computer that I need to keep, identifying personal health, vital, or financial documents are inviting trouble. Now after dealing with all sorts of hijackers, malware attacks through adobe or microsoft automatic downloads against my knowledge; I keep all files on various flashdrives in categories of each computor has its own, no mixing them. i keep an individual one for each source away from home like school computers. most important is people learn the hardway also by not doing operation system recovery disks immediately after buyibg a new computer, which is risky business unless you are an experienced programmer or reinstalling a unit and loosing files. that is timely and expensive. I learned the inside and outside of every operating system microsoft released and not much difference except all the spy and tracker devices called by other names. but now 20 plus bank fraud events, spoofs latelly, even though I have little money and dont shop online or do any banking on cell phone. my machines are the most secured ever but with a router not set right or leaving any system on continuously, not logging off, is risking things uncessarily. I have watched some hackers in neighborhood hop on other networks in the night. and seen mine being manipulated in the bios, but most intrusive crap is off the net by slack habits by not cleaning all things regularly by scanners a variety and all free. the firewall matters too. all of windows stuff is not efficient alone. no computer cleans itself or maintenance that well with only one app. diligance and regular maintenance keeps a computer from slowing down. life lesson learned is not letting anyone use any computer and expect it returned unmodified or at all, never know what people do on them unless you have learned where to find the system logs that reveal all.. kindof a redundant idea to have a system with 1 Tb of storage, and not use it to the max. FYI any document that needs to be kept as legal documentation, is only legal and tangible as proof on hardcopy.

  6. posted by SkiptheBS on

    Keeping all files offline is key, although I’m slack on scans. Our router is hacked regularly and my info handed off to the heroin-addicted ex-wife of a family member, so keeping any financial or market research info, or contacts, away from Internet access is essential.
    Use multiple and varied storage media, Check All Downloads to assure that you can re-open them. Keep one set off-premises and a second in a locked fireproof safe.

  7. posted by Rodel N. Casio, Founder of Emperience on

    I truly believe that the absolute best way to back-up visual media (except motions pictures aka video) is to print a hard copy! I am Certified Personal Photo Organizer and I put importance on everything in your article and more! =) Thank Your for sharing!

  8. posted by Steven on

    If I have to choose, I rather have everything in the Cloud that locally on my drive. The chances of Google’s (or whomever’s) servers unrecoverable losing my data are almost nil compared to my own local drive.

  9. posted by wade on

    Yes I’m in IT and I find that people start backing up data immediately after their first catastrophic loss. At that point they are emotionally invested. I actually have 4 copies of crucial files, one of them in the cloud. I have a Mac and use Time Machine for backup, but only plug the external drive in once a week. (If it’s always plugged in then lightning can take out the original and the backup at the same time.)

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